Monday, October 5, 2009

Time for the $4.00 ebook?

The Huffington Post launched a new books section today, and I'm one of their new bloggers. For my debut column, I challenge publishers to offer $4.00 ebooks.

No, I'm not suggesting we destroy the livelihoods of publishers and authors. Instead, I want to help save publishing from its slow downhill march to irrelevance as more and more readers abandon books in favor of lower cost forms of information and entertainment.

Books today are too expensive for the vast majority of the world's literate consumers. Imagine how much smaller the book market would be today if books were only offered in hard cover? We need lower cost formats, now.

I don't argue that all books should be priced at $4.00. The new price point would be for ebooks only, and only for a subsection of a publisher's catalog. For example, wouldn't it make sense to resurrect a publisher's out of print backlist via $4.00 ebooks?

While I'm sure some people will think I'm smoking opium to suggest such a low price point, my proposal isn't really that outrageous. Book prices are already dropping, and authors are helping to drive the drop. At Smashwords, we already have hundreds of authors who set the price of their books at zero. Don't quote me on this, but the last time I checked, about 20 percent percent of our titles were priced at free yet they accounted for over 80 percent of our downloads.

Authors and publishers should consider creating new lower cost formats for their books, just as trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks are lower cost alternatives to the old hard cover book.

Since ebooks cost so little to produce, print and distribute, the format is ideally suited to the $4.00 book. For authors who sell a $4.00 book at Smashwords, they still net $3.05, or about eight times more than the average 5 percent royalty on a mass market paperback.

If we don't offer the consumer what they want, publishing is in for a world of hurt. The challenge is to learn how to balance what the consumer wants against the rights of authors, publishers and booksellers who deserve fair compensation for bringing us these books.

Read the column at Huffington Post.


C. S. Soares said...

Excelent news, Mark. I am an avid reader of The Huffington Post. Great addition to the team of the newspaper! Best, Claudio.

Lain said...

I like the way you think. I'm the co-founder of an online publishing company, and our eBooks are priced at $4.99 and $5.99. That's new content, but I could see us doing $4 for our backlist -- once we have one! ;)


Cantara said...

My press Cantarabooks ( has been offering ebooks and a PDF quarterly literary magazine Cantaraville ( since 2007.

Annika said...

Congratulations on the Huffington Post gig. You are the second person I've met now who works for her and who has been a speaker at the California Writers Club. I suspect you read the TIME article today on Kindles competition in the works? If not, check it out.